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Brazil Wants to Clean Up Its Reputation, but Justin Bieber Isn’t Helping

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Brazil is ready for the big time. The country will host both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, and it’s ready to assume its role as one of the world’s largest and most influential economies, proving to everyone that there’s more to Rio de Janeiro than samba dancing, acai berries and drug dealers. Oh, and prostitutes.

They’re having a bit of trouble with that last point, though. In anticipation of the big events, the Brazilian government is running “a ‘hygienization’ campaign” that consists of doing its damndest to shut down the city’s most notorious brothels.

A couple of problems: prostitution is legal in Brazil (though the act of “running a bordello” isn’t) and the tabloid media can’t seem to get over its fascination with celebrities visiting Rio for…well, you know.

Justin Bieber is only the latest famous face caught leaving Centaurus, which is “arguably the city’s most legendary brothel.”

So yes, Rio has been known as a party town for wealthy Americans and others to visit when they don’t feel like complying with international law. And the country’s reputation management strategy is a little more complicated than “shut ‘em down”: for example, advocacy groups created to represent Rio prostitutes are giving them free English classes and successfully lobbying local banks to help them accept credit cards. Earlier this year there was a campaign designed to show the public that Brazil’s prostitutes are, for the most part, happy and STD-free.

Some more permissive politicians even argue that the whole endeavor should be legal, but now the tourism ministry is stepping back a bit by cracking down on related websites and ordering them to remove content that might reflect negatively on Brazilian culture. We wonder how effective this approach will be: it’s not like the government can force an entire industry underground, and human rights organizations would give them bad press for an overly harsh crackdown anyway.

We’re honestly not quite sure what sort of advice to give a country with so many contradictions. Maybe Rio needs to accept its reputation as a culture straddling the line between exotic and traditional.

At any rate, it’s hard to keep a secret once the Biebs is on your case.

(Photo via Rio News, Splash, Corbis)

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